Buying a viola is a complicated process so you need to know what viola brand to buy. You need to buy a viola brand that is known for high quality workmanship. Quality is shown through the external beauty of the instrument and also the sound. Our list is based on quality and affordability, and is intended to help you buy a viola brand that is high-value, but that fits within your budget. This is our 2017 list of the best viola brands. To see our historical ratings, see our 2016 best violas brands review.
There are a few clear things that anyone looking to purchase a viola should keep in mind:
The fewer upgrades needed the better
Quality of materials used
Attention to detail
Every viola brand on this list may not suit your individual personality. Like the wand chooses the wizard in Harry Potter, the viola chooses the violist. For example, I have personally played a number of violas in my life, but none have sounded as good as the one I currently play on (a Giuseppi Renaldi from Brobst Violin Shop). In addition to sound, budget constraints always play a factor. Most violas cost somewhere between $200-$5000, and the violas listed below cover that spectrum. We will call out typical prices and recommendations for skill level for each of the brands below. To learn more about buying a viola, read our viola buying guide.
One final note before we get to our recommended viola brands: Buying a viola online is a relatively new phenomenon. We highly recommend going to a local music shop to try out violas before you buy a viola online for the best deal. However, if you feel comfortable with Amazon’s return policy, you can certainly buy a viola from them and return the viola if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Our #1 rated viola brand of 2017 for beginners is Stentor. This viola brand is trusted by viola students and teachers of all kinds.
Very affordable, Stentor has made a name for themselves by being one of the highest quality viola brands for the price. Many parents rely on this well-known brand to get their children to an intermediate level viola.
Based in the United Kingdom, Stentor manufactures the instruments in Chinese workshops, but checks each instrument for quality before delivery to your home or store.
With a wide variety of violas for sale, from absolute beginner to slightly below intermediate, Stentor is sure to have the right viola for your student. Not only do they come in multiple sizes, including variations on a “full size” instrument (a misnomer because viola sizes are not as standardized as cellos or violins), with 16” and 15.5” outfits.
Like their other instruments, Stentor violas are made in the traditional way out of solid tone woods. This includes a solid ebony fingerboard (as opposed to the Cecilio above), pegs, and fittings with maple sides and back, and a spruce top. Stentor violas also have inlaid purfling to prevent the softer spruce wood top from splitting.
Packages on Amazon include a padded rectangle case, wood and horsehair bow (usually brazilwood), and rosin.
DZ Strad violas are consistently rated as some of the best mid-tier violas. Reviews on Amazon rave about the sound quality of these instruments so we had to give one a try. We were blown away! The Model 400 in particular is a great instrument for the intermediate viola student.
The company has a workshop in New York and Minnesota and offer a complete range of services for the string community. The violas themselves are made with hand-rubbed Italian tonewoods that have been naturally dried outside on a covered, ventilated area for 20 years. The wood is then placed into a drying room, consistent with old world traditional European practices to ensures that the wood will not open or expand, and guarantees stability.
The outfits include the viola, a viola case, and two bows: a carbon fiber viola bow, and D Z Strad Pernambuco Viola Bow. For a high-quality viola that ranges between $1000-$1300 depending on size, this is a ton of value.
D Z Strad Model 300
D Z Strad Model 400
Best Viola Brand for Advanced Players
Recommended For: Advanced
While Eastman Strings does make student model violas, they are well-known for making advanced violins and violas that sound beautiful which is why we highly recommend them for the advanced player. Strings Magazine often recommends Eastman VA305 violas for advanced players due to their playability and tone.
The violas are handcrafted from one-piece, flamed maple back with boxwood-and-ebony fittings. Outfits generally come with a base Despiau bridge, which can of course be modified after-market, and a Wittner tailpiece with built in fine tuners.
Outfits on Amazon usually only include the instrument, no bow or case. As Eastman’s violas are built for advanced players, the bow choice is often up to the player. As we mention in our buying a viola bow guide, the viola bow needs to fit the player’s style.
Cecilio was our number one rated viola brand last year, but we feel that their quality has declined slightly over the last year.
Cecilio violas are made out of hand carved solid tonewoods in the traditional fashion: spruce top, flamed maple sides and back, and inlaid purfling. The chin rests are made of boxwood, traditionally a feature only available on higher-end models.
The main shortcoming of Cecilio violas is that their fingerboards are made of maple instead of ebony. Ebony fingerboards are sturdier than maple since ebony is a hardwood which means ebony fingerboards can withstand the repeated pressure of fingers tapping on them. Of course, removing the ebony fingerboards makes for a lower-cost viola, but you may need to take your viola in for repairs more often.
These viola outfits are also very generous. Most Cecilio outfits come with a quality brazilwood bow with unbleached Mongolian horsehair. They also come with boxwood pegs, chinrest, and tailpiece (with four fine tuners).
Given the value you get for the price, the Cecilio viola brand gets our highest vote, but if you are an advanced player, we recommend buying a higher-end viola below.
Yamaha is a well known in the musical world for producing top-quality instruments at an affordable price. Their piano and violin family instruments are just as high-quality.
While more expensive than many of the models featured in the above list, Yamaha violas are hand made in Chinese workshops out of the highest quality woods for this price range. For this reason, Yamaha rounds out our list as one of the top brands of violas.
The Yamaha student viola outfits come in assorted sizes, and includes a case, Brazilwood bow, and rosin. Thhey are hand made out of solid spruce, maple, and ebony and fitted with a Wittner tailpiece with four fine tuners for easy tuning.
Yamaha violas also come with quality D’Addario Prelude strings, though upgrading your strings to Dominants or Evah Pirazzis can drastically improve the tone of your instrument.
For a beginner outfit, Cremona violas are great quality for a decent price tag. Made out of select tone woods, such as hand-carved maple, spruce, and ebony, these violas stand up well on their own, but can be made significantly better with small improvements.
Out-of-the-box, Cremona violas come with Prelude strings which are okay, but swapping them out for a higher-quality viola string brand can make a world of difference.
Cremona violas are built to MENC standards (National Standards for Music Education as prescribed by the Music Educators National Conference in 1994) in their Cremona workshop in the state of California. The MENC standard ensures that they are playable when they arrive, and can be easily integrated into your child’s school orchestra or ensemble. It’s no wonder that students and teachers alike favor Cremona over other student viola outfits.
Each outfit comes with a high-quality J. LaSalle Brazilwood bow, a popular TL-33 case, Prelude strings by D’Addario, A. Breton VP-61 alloy tailpiece with 4 built-in tuners for easy tuning, along with a Kaufman chinrest, and rosin.
Recommended For: Intermediate
Primavera violas are a very affordable intermediate viola brand. Slightly more expensive than many of the beginner brands ($250-$350), Primavera violas are made out of high quality solid tonewoods, including hand carved maple and spruce with inlaid purfling. The fingerboard and pegs are made out of carved ebony, as well as the fittings. In addition, the Primavera intermediate viola outfit comes with a “student proof” (ie. very strong) composite bow with an ebony frog and Mongolian horsehair.
Primavera has made several decisions to cut costs while improving the musical experience. For example, they use a metal alloy tailpiece with four fine tuners, instead of a solid wood tailpiece. They also use a Styrofoam shaped case instead of a standard “pillowy” case. While slightly lower in quality, this case still performs well, and will protect your viola from the elements and drops.
Primavera beginner viola outfits come in many sizes, so you can find the proper fit for you or your child. Most also come with a hardwood bow.
While lower quality than many of the viola brands on this list, Merano definitely deliver on affordability. Many of their violas are just over $100 which makes them especially good for absolute beginners who may not continue playing after their first year. While they won’t garner a high resale value, they will certainly meet the requirements of a novice and your budget.
Like Cecilio listed above, Merano viola fingerboards are made out of hardwood instead of ebony, meaning you will most certainly have to upgrade to a better model or have the fingerboard repaired frequently.
If you can’t afford a higher quality model at this moment, the Merano viola makes a good starting instrument.
Outfits on Amazon include a ton of extras including an extra set of strings, an extra bridge, a shoulder rest, rosin, case, music stand, and electronic tuner. Buying a Merano viola outfit is one way to be up and playing in no time.